Macron-Le Pen go head to head in televised debate

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Just four days ahead of the run-off polls, incumbent French President Emmanuel Macron and his far-right challenger Marine Le Pen went head to head in their only televised debate during which they clashed on a number of issues, ranging from cost of living, the ongoing Ukraine-Russia war, immigration and climate change.

The two hour and 45 minutes debate on Wednesday night was the first time that the same candidates squared off in two consecutive elections, the first being in 2017, reports the BBC.

Le Pen, who lost to Macron in 2017, termed the issue of cost of living as her biggest priority, saying she “will permanently cut VAT on energy” and “will also cut taxes, no income tax for under-30s”.

“My absolute priority of the next five years is to give French people back their money,” she was quoted as saying.

Le Pen also accused Macron on letting pension levels fall in real terms.

The President however, challenged his opponent’s proposals as “unworkable” and said that his solution was to impose a cap on prices which was “twice as effective as dropping sales tax”.

On the Ukraine-Russia war, Macron said Moscow was “going down a fatal path”, while Le Pen warned that giving Ukraine weapons could make France a “co-belligerent”.

But the two contenders agreed on backing Ukraine and taking in refugees, said the BBC report.

Shifting to the topic of immigration, Le Pen said that if she wins, she will call on a referendum on who should stay and who should leave France.

She also condemned the “anarchic and massive immigration” that has contributed to a sense of insecurity in the country.

Speaking on banning the wearing of a headscarf in public, another one of Le Pen’s key policies, she argued that “women had to be liberated from Islamist pressure”.

“I think that the headscarf is a uniform imposed by the Islamists… I think that the great majority of the women who wear one can’t do otherwise in reality, even if they don’t dare say so.”

Macron however, accused her of creating a “system of equivalence” among Islamism, terrorism and foreigners that would “create civil war”, reports CNN.

She also accused Macron of being out of touch with voters, claiming he was ignorant of the suffering of health care workers before Covid-19, as he promised more investment in health care.

But the incumbent President said he had steered France through challenges, including the pandemic, and aimed to make the country a stronger country.

On climate change, Le Pen labelled Macron a “climate hypocrite”, while the President called his opponent “a climate sceptic”.

Although they sparred on the topic of renewable energy, the two contenders agreed on building more nuclear power stations.

Meanwhile, the gap in the opinion polls has widened slightly since the first round vote on April 10 in which Macron won 27.85 per cent and Le Pen came second with 23.15 per cent.

The latest Harris/Challenges poll conducted between April 15-18 have placed Macron 54.0 per cent and Le Pen at 46.0 per cent, the BBC reported.

The candidates are not allowed to campaign the day before the vote, or on election day itself, and the media will be subject to strict reporting restrictions from the day before the election until polls close at 8 p.m. on Sunday in France.

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